Sermon series: Covenant Faithfulness
Connection to unit theme
After God stirred the heart of Cyrus to allow His people to return to Jerusalem, Judah remained disconnected from their longed-for redemption. Full redemption would have to wait.
Tim Keller wrote in The Prodigal God, "All the mini-exoduses and mini-homecomings of the Bible failed in the end to deliver the final and full homecoming the prophets promised and everyone longed for." A kind of spiritual homesickness resides in every heart. Though we experience redemption and forgiveness in this life through Christ, we still long and wait for our full redemption (Rom. 8:23-24).
The return to Jerusalem was bittersweet for God's people. Though rejoicing and celebration filled the city, a sense that things still weren't as they should be remained. Christians today experience this. We, though redeemed and ransomed, long for our full redemption and restoration. The third chapter of Ezra offers a picture of what our wait should look like as we long for God to set all things right.
I. We must seek unity (v.1)
Unity is essential for God's people. If you are familiar with the history of Israel, verse 1 should sound refreshing. God's people were often divided, at odds with one another. The Northern (Israel) and Southern (Judah) kingdoms even went to war against each other. But now they were united as "one man."
The church, as we wait for our full redemption, must be unified. Jesus promised that He would build His Church (Matt. 16:18). But he prayed that His Church would be unified (John 17:11). He will build and grow the Church, but we must strive to remain as one. This is why the apostle Paul constantly stressed our obligation to "one another" (See: Rom. 12:10; Eph. 4:32). We must remain unified as we long for our full redemption.
Application: What divisions do you see in your local congregation or small group? How can you help solve these problems and promote unity?
II. We must walk in obedience (vv. 2-6a)
One of the first things we see the returning exiles do is offer sacrifices to the Lord. The fear of Him was on them all. They were careful to offer the sacrifices according to how the law commanded (vv.3-5). Their time in exile was a constant reminder of the idolatry and rebellion that brought God's judgment. They would not make the same mistakes again.
As we wait for God to renew all things and bring about our full redemption, the temptation to disobey remains. Jesus warned his followers not to grow weary as they waited for His return (Luke 21:34). Many will grow tired of seeking and obeying the Lord. Some will even depart from the faith by giving in to the world's allures (1Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 4:10).
Application: What areas of your life need growth and repentance? Are you becoming weary as a stranger and alien in this world (1Pet. 1:2)? Resolve to remain steadfast to God and His Word.
III. We must work to advance God's kingdom (vv. 6b-11)
Though the altar for sacrifices had been erected, God's Temple remained in ruins. The people committed themselves to rebuilding the house of the Lord. They labored joyously and celebrated as they laid the foundation. This was one more step toward reclaiming their identity as God's people.
The Church has work to do. People need to hear the gospel. The Word needs to be preached and taught. Believers need counseling and. Countless physical needs remain unmet. We must continue in the Lord's labor. Charles Spurgeon said, "It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus." Of course we must exercise wisdom and balance, but God has given us much do and "build."
Application: The book of Haggai is a reminder that God's people can labor for their own house and neglect His (Hag 1:1-5). Are you busy with your own kingdom to the neglect of God's?
IV: We must endure discontentment (vv.12-13)
Though God's people were unified in their homeland, bringing sacrifices, and restoring the Temple, they were still "homesick." Some of the elders who remembered the first Temple in all its glory were disappointed in the new Temple. Therefore, they wept. Though restored to their home, a longing remained for full and final redemption.
C.S. Lewis wrote, "Our life-long nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation." Though secure in God, we long for our true home. We must endure with a holy discontentment.
Application: How do you handle the discontentment of this life? Do you allow the inner pain drive you to God?
As we long for redemption we must look to Jesus Christ. He left His home in heaven to come and ransom us. Therefore, one day we will be reunited with Him and the home He has prepared for us. Let us not grow weary as we wait.